OpinionKevin Moran

Kevin Moran: Martin O'Neill must pick Wes Hoolahan tonight

Kevin MoranBy Kevin Moran
The Norwich City playmaker is just the sort of footballer who can create an opening
The Norwich City playmaker is just the sort of footballer who can create an opening

I want Martin O’Neill to put his faith in Wes Hoolahan for tonight's first leg of the Euro 2016 play-off against Bosnia.

The Norwich City playmaker is just the sort of footballer who can create an opening with a brilliant pass and he’s also the one player on the Irish team who can retain possession and give our team time on the ball.

We will want to take the small but very passionate Bosnian crowd out of the game as much as possible.

And there’s no better way to do that than by holding the ball among the  Boys in Green for a while.

Hoolahan is just the man for that task, to give and take little passes while the midfielders try to get beyond him to support the lone striker.

He should be slotted in between a packed midfield and the solo warrior up front in Zenica.

I know Martin is worried about the 33-year-old Wes playing two full games in three days.

But the second leg will look after itself, only after we’ve got a good result in the first game. 

I wouldn’t be banking on keeping Wes back for the Aviva Stadium.

Getting the right result tonight, and a draw would do fine, has to be the only thing on Martin’s mind.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Ipswich’s Daryl Murphy might just get the nod for the start as the only man in attack.

From the way the Irish manager has been talking about Robbie Keane of late, repeatedly wishing that Ireland’s top goalscorer was a decade younger, it appears he won’t be starting.

Robbie’s future with Ireland may well be in cameo roles off the bench when we  are pressing teams and a chance might fall to him in the box.

Behind Murphy and Hoolahan, we could well have  ‘the wingless wonders’ playing as I’ve a notion that the likes of James McClean and Aidan McGeady could miss out even though Jon Walters is suspended.

Glenn Whelan, James McCarthy, Jeff Hendrick and maybe even Darron Gibson could form a hard-tackling quartet whose principal job would be to stay solid, help the team keep its shape and, above all, protect the back-four.

Width will have to come from the full-backs with Seamus Coleman, especially, likely to be urged to get forward.

Another Canary, Robbie Brady, will be defending on the other wing and he’ll be vital when it comes to a set-piece.

If we get a close-in free-kick, Ireland have to make it count.

There may not be too many chances to get that crucial away goal.

Brady simply has to work the goalkeeper, or find an Irish forehead, with whatever chance he gets.

At centre-back Ciaran Clark of Aston Villa is fit again after missing the last two games and he may come into the team alongside Marc Wilson or Richard Keogh as John O’Shea’s replacement.

It will be a night for massive concentration, for every player to focus 100 per cent for every second he is on the pitch.

I know I’m always going on about that, but it is so vital at international level, where the standard of opponent is at its highest.

For me, you cannot get anywhere in the international game without being completely conscious of all that is going on around you, with your team-mates and your opponents.

Switch off for even a second, and Bosnia will score.

If Ireland’s players are all not fully tuned in, all of the time tonight, Bosnia have the gifted players such as Edin Dzeko and Miralen Pjanic to hurt us and score goals.

We have to be vigilant at all times and Ireland need our experienced players to be real leaders on the night, in both word and deed. That’s where the loss of Walters and O’Shea through suspension is such a bad blow.

You always want the second leg of any tie such as this at home.

But there might have been an argument for being at home for the match in which these two players, our most consistent warriors in the qualifying campaign, will be absent. 

Of course, Martin will want an away goal, but not at the price of going bald-headed after it. He’ll want his team to stay compact as they did against Germany. 

Yes, Ireland rode their luck at times in that game and they’ll have to do it again.

You never get a good away result without working hard and then getting a touch of good fortune to add to the mix.

This is going to be very hard for Ireland. Bosnia changed manager halfway through the qualifying campaign and ever since they have been a changed team, playing much better.

Yet our hosts still struggled to beat Cyprus in their last qualifier, knowing they had to win the game.

I’m quietly confident that Ireland have it in them to get a draw tonight.

And then Ireland’s footballers can have a right go at getting to the Euros with a big night in the Aviva Stadium on Monday.